For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Seeing past the mirror

We, all of us, have our own personal biases.  Our upbringing, our culture, our financial situations, the experiences we've had and many things outside our own control, all colour our perceptions and interpretations of things.

Even our geography can colour our views on things.  I was recently reminded of this in a conversation with Eldest.  She had been visiting with friends who live in a high rise.  Looking out their window towards the downtown core of our city, she was struck by how very green our city is.  If it weren't for high rises and the odd bridge here and there, you would hardly know that there was a city under the canopy of trees.  There's also a major river winding its way through the city,with parks along it containing a surprising amount of wildlife, including deer and the odd cougar sighting.

View of a residential neighbourhood from our downtown home.

Our current city is hardly unique in this respect. In all the cities I've traveled to and lived in from coast to coast, even those with the highest population densities still have a lot of trees.  When a lot of our cities were built, houses tended to be smaller and taller, with larger yards.  Today, subdivisions are built with larger houses and smaller yards, but they often include man-made lakes, parks and playgrounds.  As people move in, their sometimes tiny yards are quickly decorated with trees, shrubs, and gardens. Even some of our high rises and office buildings have gardens, lawns and trees on roof tops or terraces.

My sister's husband has a lot of relatives in Poland.  Every year or so, some cousins, aunts, or uncles come out to visit.  Being the good hosts that they are, my sister and her husband try to take their visitors out to see as much as possible during their stay.  My BIL might take them fishing on the various creeks, rivers and lakes they have access to via the creek running past their home (they've taken me by boat from their house on a farm in a blink town to the downtown of the nearest city in less time than it takes to drive).  He's brought in some fish big enough to get into the record books while they were visiting, which the relatives found quite thrilling.  Other times, my sister or her husband take their guests on a road trip to places like Niagra Falls or Banff, depending on which direction they want to drive.

Despite being a fraction of Canada's size, Poland has a greater population. These road trips in particular leave them amazed at things we tend to take for granted.  Like open spaces, for hours at at time.  Taking days to cross just half the country, rather than hours.  Fields stretching from horizon to horizon, with the odd farmhouse hidden within islands of trees planted as windbreaks.  Even the size and shapes of our hay bales has been a source of awe.  They're constantly snapping pictures and taking videos of things we find quite ordinary, but to them are extraordinary.

Growing up with this sort of terrain and living in cities filled with trees has certainly coloured my perception.  Which is why, when I hear or read people talking about how cities are concrete jungles, and of people never experiencing nature, I was long confused.  I understood it to a certain extent - after all, having grown up on the farm, even a small town seemed noisy and crowded to me.  But the more I heard people complaining about the lack of green space, population density and the troubles these cause, the less I was able to understand it.  I'd see photos of city streets in Tokyo or New York, and it still didn't really sink in.  It was a long time before I realized that our green cities and wide open spaces were the oddity, not the cities so crowded that the sidewalks were filled with a seething mass of humanity.  I just can't imagine living in a place so full of people.  Or, more accurately, I can't imagine living in such conditions without going stir crazy!  I now realize that I've been spoiled by our wide open vistas and low population density.  What is normal and ordinary to me was the exception, not the rule.

Realizing that my own perception was skewed was an important step.  It has allowed me to hear or read people lamenting the lack of nature and green spaces and not project my own biased image, like some kind of mirror, over what they were talking about.  Over time, I've learned to look more closely at the conclusions I jump to about many other things and examine where I might be looking at them through the biased lens of my personal experiences.

Having a biased view of things isn't actually a bad thing, in and of itself.  It's quite normal and, I think, necessary.  After all, as a parent, being biased towards my own children led me to parenting practises quite different from what the cultural norm told me I should be doing.  There is a place and purpose to bias.

Bias can be a problem, however.  More so when people refuse to acknowledge the role bias plays in our interpretations of things.  Bias is why two researchers can look at the exact same data, yet come to completely different conclusions.  That data is neutral.  The researchers should also be neutral, but unless they are aware of their own personal biases and how those biases might colour their conclusions, they themselves can't maintain neutrality. This is not to suggest the events that shaped their personal biases are automatically wrong or bad and should be rejected, but that the researcher needs to be aware that their conclusions may be unduly affected by them.

Accusations of bias are common enough, and such accusations are often used as weapons to question the credibility of those who hold opposing opinions or draw conclusions that are not popular.  A recent example of this has been making the news when one scientist published his conclusion that water downstream from the Alberta oilsands development contains higher levels of certain toxic chemicals, and that the oilsands extractions are to blame.  A government scientist, on the other hand, looked at the same data and came to a different conclusion; that while these levels are indeed higher than "normal," they have not actually been increasing, and that the source of these toxins is not necessarily from the extraction of bitumen from the oilsands.  That area is naturally high in toxins because of the presence of bitumen, and those toxins have always leeched into the water system. 

Immediately after these counter claims hit the news, the government scientist was disparaged for bias by those who oppose oilsands development.  Which is another demonstration of bias in itself.  These are the same people who claim that non-governmental scientists or organizations are unduly biased by the source of their paychecks (hence the accusations of scientists being in the pockets of "Big Oil," or "Big Pharma," etc.), while research paid for by government grants or paid for by special interest groups that just happen to support their own views is claimed to be trustworthy due to lack of bias.  In this case, it's the government scientist that's accused of bias because the government in question is a) conservative and b) owns the oilsands on behalf of the province's citizens.  For these anti-oilsands groups, the actual data is irrelevant; they've already decided that the oilsands are evil and must be stopped, so any who don't support their views are obviously paid stooges. 

From what I understand, this government scientist is just one of many other government scientists and employees that have been monitoring the Athabasca river since the late 70's.  It may be true that this scientist does have a bias in favour of oilsands development.  What is not being acknowledged is that the scientist that drew the opposite conclusion might also be biased.  Ignoring the fact that his findings were little more than science by press release, this is someone who has been pretty public about his opinions against the use of hydrocarbons.  You would think that someone who came in out of nowhere, looked at a bunch of data and drew conclusions that supported his already known position is more likely to be unfairly biased than someone who's been following, gathering and/or working with that data as his job for years. 

While this is a rather high profile example, similar examples can be drawn from most people's daily lives.  Each of us can look at the same information and, unless we are aware and train ourselves otherwise, see what proves our preconceived notions while ignoring information that doesn't.  I recently read a post on a sociology blog talking about images used by the Republican Party.  The writer noted that in these pictures, which supposedly represented "America" and "Americans" the people were all white - completely missing several people who clearly weren't white until people in the comments pointed them out (which, in turn, got dismissed because there were so few of them).

One commenter dismissed the entire series of photos as being a sea of "angry white" people.  I had to go back and double check what the writer was talking about.  I'm still not sure.  Of the photos that clearly showed faces, their expressions were universally cheerful and pleasant, if not openly smiling.  There was just one crowd shot I can imagine this person was talking about.  It was a wide angle shot of an audience.  Most of the people seated were turned in the general direction of the camera, looking at another audience member, whose back was to the camera, speaking at a microphone.  More people in the staging area were also looking at the speaking audience member.  None of the faces looked all that clear to me.  Not enough to determine facial expressions with any accuracy, at least.  Of the ones I could see, they were focused on the speaker and their expressions, while not cheerful, seemed attentively focused, not angry.  They looked like a room full of people taking part in a lecture/Q&A on a serious topic.  This commenter, however, saw anger in these pictures.  This person was clearly allowing their personal bias against... white people?  Republicans?  Guys in cowboy hats? whatever is was specifically, to colour their interpretation of the photos.  This is only a problem because that person is also dismissing an entire group based on their personal bias.  It's one thing to look at a group of people and see anger where there is none.  Using that bias to dismiss an entire segment of the population turns it from bias to prejudice.  The Republican Party may have, knowingly or unknowingly, shown bias by using photos of predominantly white people in their publication, but does that bias represent racism?  Or did they simply choose a bunch of photos showing a variety of activities that also just happened to have very few non-Caucasians in them?

Hmmm...  As I write this, I'm noticing yet another biased view being demonstrated here.  This particular sociology blog is a big one for discussing how "white people" tend to be the default representation for "humans," while people of colour are portrayed as the "other."  There is some truth to this, but it implies that there actually is this one big, homogeneous group that fits under the umbrella of "white."  They are defined by the lack of pigmentation in their skin.  White people, of course, aren't one homogeneous group.  They come from a wide variety of cultures, traditions and ethnicity's.  Assuming that the whiteness of their skin defines them is a bias every bit as prejudicial as defining, say, all First Nations people by their skin.  They might be Salish or Cree or Mohawk or Metis or Haida Gwaii or Iroquois, etc, just as a white person might be Swiss or Swedish, Polish or British, and so on.

This is the sort of examination of bias I am talking about.  Our personal biases will colour our views of things.  That's just part of being human.  Knowing this and learning to see past the mirror of our biases is what helps keep them from being negatives that keep our minds closed to alternative views, or worse, develop into prejudices, and allows us to see and understand other points of view, even if we ultimately disagree with them.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

An experiment that didn't happen... sorta

How's that for an ambiguous post title?

I've mentioned before that I have friends and acquaintances all over the map when it comes to politics, religion, ethnicity, etc.  I've also mentioned that some of them are among my facebook friends, and I've noted significant differences in the behaviours and attitudes from those on the far left of the political spectrum vs those on the far right.

Most of the folks I know are of the "live and let live" sort.  Most don't even talk about topics of substance on public forums, but if they do put forward their feedback, they are generally respectful of those they disagree with, even if they disagree very strongly, or the topic is very emotionally charged.  They might share potentially inflammatory articles or videos, but they do so in such a way that they are asking for feedback, and to actually understand the why behind them.

There are, however, a few exceptions.  I've got the one person on the extreme far right who's also a 9/11 Truther that tends to use foul language and has some rather choice descriptive terms for those who don't agree with his "evidence."  He is, quite obviously, not representative of the political right.

Then there are the others.  These are people on the far left of the political spectrum, and as I've written before, their attitudes are quite different.  Judging from what I've seen and heard elsewhere, they are highly representative of the far and not-so-far left.

Which is rather disturbing, considering some of the things they share and the comments that accompany them.

In the past while, there has been a lot of sharing of stories from this group.  Articles, videos, comments on walls and in groups, etc.  When it comes to politics, they are very predictable.  Basically, they'll share and agree with anything that is anti-American, anti-Harper, anti-Conservative, anti-right, anti-Christian (especially anti-Catholic), anti-Caucasian, anti-male, anti-human, anti-capitalist, and anti-wealth.  The anti-wealth is a bit confusing, though, in that they clearly believe individuals should not have "too much" wealth, and that government should take it from these undeserving wealthy and spread it around to those who aren't wealthy, however they have no objection to those who fall into their acceptable categories to be wealthy, and to use that wealth to try and control our societies.

At the same time, they'll share any story the find that shows how downtrodden their preferred groups are.  Currently, that means any criticism of anything to do with Islam is automatically blasted as being Islamophobic.  Showing any support for Israel causes heads to explode, as is anything said in support of a Christian faith, since apparently accepting Christianity or Isreal in any way is the same as being anti-Islam.  Likewise, suggesting that anthropogenic climate change claims are questionable is met with accusations of being in favor of pollution, or being manipulated by Big Oil. 

There's a major double standard, of course.  They freak out if there's even the flimsiest of connections between the NRA and those trying to get rid of the long-gun registry, but have no problem with Avaaz putting out a petition making wildly false claims about the proposed Sun TV (or, as they think it's named, "Fox New North") channel, for example.  Wealth is bad, but not if it's in the hands of Al Gore or George Soros.   Oil and coal based energy is bad because of pollution, resources used, or they result in the deaths of a bunch of ducks in a tailing pond, but wind turbines are good, even though they kill birds and bats, use a lot of resources to manufacture and ship, are unreliable, may be causing health problems via noise and vibrations, etc.  They'll ignore the environmental cost of building solar panels while decrying the building of a coal plant.  They bemoan our modern lifestyles, painting idyllic pictures of less technologically advanced cultures while ignoring that those lifestyles mean illness, hunger and early death for millions around the world.  I could make a very long list of their double standards.

Of course, there's no trying to respond directly to their claims, because their positions are bolstered firmly by emotion first, then attempts at logic to support those positions.  They are perfect examples of my theory that logic is what people use to justify their emotional responses.  They have their emotional conclusion, and only see those things which support that conclusion, ignoring anything that counters it.  They've actually been the source of great amusement in our household, as we have found ourselves eagerly looking forward to seeing what new way these folks are demonstrating their gullibility, or how far they've fallen into the "useful idiot" category, in their rush to support anyone or anything that agreed with their anti-[see above list] views.

After seeing my newsfeed filled with these posts, I figured I'd try an experiment.  I'd start sharing stories and videos that countered theirs.  Unlike them, I would not make any personal comments on these stories, or give any direct sign that I agreed or disagreed with what I was sharing.  If they were posting stories about how wonderful liberalism was and how evil conservatives are, I'd share stories showing the damage those liberal policies had done, and the benefits reaped by conservative policies.  If they shared another story about how Americans are evil, I'd share stories showing the evils perpetrated by other countries that they'd have to ignore to maintain their illusion of how Americans are the worst of everything.  If they went on about how Christianity is so terrible, or how rife Islamophobia is in the US and Canada, I'd share stories about the horrors done in the name of Islam or how Christians are being persecuted in Muslim nations. 

At least, that was the plan.  I was simply going to share these stories.  I would not comment unless it was to respond to something someone else had said.  I would also be careful about the sources for what I was sharing.  Not because they were any less reliable than their sources, but because these sources might have an obvious bias. ie: if I found a pro-Christian story on a Christian website, I wouldn't share it from that link, but if I found the source of that story from a major news organization, I'd share it from there. That sort of thing.  I was going to show the other side of what they were claiming, and see how they responded. These stories would also be interspersed with all the usual interesting stuff I like to share, like new scientific discoveries, interesting photo collections, humorous quotes, etc.

I quickly found a problem with this plan. 

There were simply too many. 

For example, when the hullabaloo was going on about the weird preacher that wanted to burn the Koran, and the uproar about the "Ground Zero Mosque" had them going on about evil Christians and Islamaphobes, I was going to share stores about Bibles being burned, churches, synagogues or temples being destroyed, "victory Mosques" being built, and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists being persecuted and killed by Muslims.

I was finding hundreds of them - and not just different versions of the same source story - without really even trying.  Many of these stories were incredibly horrifying.  I'm actually still rather traumatized by one particular youtube video I watched almost a week ago, and it takes a lot to disturb me.  It was far too graphic and disturbing to share.

If I were to share all the links I was finding, I would have inundated my feed with just that one subject.  On top of that, I do have Muslim friends.  Even the few stories I did share, I was concerned that they would see these stories as an attack on them and their faith.  Since the experiment was to see how people responded, if at all, to the sharing of these stories, I couldn't explain to them why I was doing it. 

Which led to another problem I had.  While I may disagree with the opinions and conclusions of people I know, I respect their right to hold those opinions and, unless there is a reason to discuss these things, I have no desire to contest their views.  I'm more interesting in understanding why they think the way they do, then convincing them to think otherwise.  I'll share information I find interesting and share my own point of view, but if they disagree with me, they're welcome to it.  Heck, even when some of them get all pissed off and insulting because I hold a view they disapprove of, that's their prerogative. I find that sort of response very interesting, from a psychological and sociological perspective.  Because I was finding so much so easily, however, posting them all would have seemed like I was on the attack; like I was deliberately trying to persecute individuals and their beliefs, when they had nothing to do with the behaviour I was trying to counter. After all, most of them aren't even seeing the shared stories and comments I have been, since the people sharing them are not mutual friends.

It got to be so very strange.  I was finding story after story from around the world that was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for to conduct this experiment, yet I couldn't bring myself to share most of them as part of the experiment.  These leftists on my list might not have any problem sharing stories that are offensive or antagonistic to those who disagreed with them (or just plain BS conspiracy theories), but it turns out I have a problem with doing that sort of thing myself.  I've found myself self-censoring, even though I'm looking to share them in response to people who don't self-censor themselves.

So now I'm at a bit of a loss.  I still have an interest in sharing these stories that I'm finding, as they would counter a lot of misinformation that I'm seeing spread around, yet I don't feel it's appropriate for me to share many of them on my facebook.  Even a lot of the mildest stories would be far too antagonistic for me to share on my own page. 

One thing's for sure; my attempt that this experiment has been an educational experience for me, and not in the way I expected.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Another one gone

Once again, Death has paid a visit to my ever shrinking family.  This time, it was after a long and hard fought battle against cancer.  I saw my cousin at my my brother's funeral just a couple of months ago.  It took a lot for him to make it, and I greatly appreciated it.  Now, I will never see him again.  We can't afford another trip out for the funeral.  I'll have to say my good byes from a distance.

As the years go by, there's nothing strange about loosing our loved ones.  The strange part is that it's been the younger generation we've been loosing.  The saying goes, no parent should have to bury their own child.  My aunt has now buried two children and a grandchild.  My heart goes out to her and my remaining cousins.  They were there for me.  I so wish I could be there for them.  I am in spirit, but it's just not the same.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Freedom for thee, but not for me?

I figure it's pretty safe to say that everyone's heard about the US pastor that threatened to burn the Quran.  Rather than ignore an obscure pastor of an obscure church that planned (but never carried out) a rather stupid, if perfectly legal, act, it became a media frenzy.  The news of his plans went round the world.  Leaders from all over stepped forward to condemn the proposed act.  Predictably, the "Muslim world" reacted with riots and protest, chants of "Death to America" and apparently the attack on an Anglican church in Baghdad, resulting in the deaths of two men.

Of course, the media frenzy has all been in the same direction.  That it should condemn the pastor's proposal was perfectly reasonable, but the over the top reporting and obsession with him served only to give him for more legitimacy than he deserved.  It also incited even more hatred against the US and Christians around the world, but apparently, that's perfectly okay.

Yes Magazine published a column, How to Confront Extremism on 9/11 that I thought was pretty typical of the media double standards.   Below are the eight suggestions made, with my commentary based on responses I have actually seen, heard and read.

1) Speak out in support for religious freedom
       Except Christianity and Judaism, because they are evil and the source of all evil in the world. 

2) Speak up when you hear Muslims or other groups disparaged...
      But never speak up when Muslims, atheists and liberals disparage Christians or Jews, because you might offend them.  Plus those groups deserve it, and if you defend Christians or Jews, you are defending prejudice, bigotry, homophobia, islamophobia and the subjugation of Palestinians by Israel.

3) Read out loud from the Quran or other Muslim texts on Sept. 11
      But you must not read out loud from the Bible in public, because if you do, you're preaching hate. Don't forget to burn them, just to make sure you aren't offending the locals.

4) Offer generous humanitarian aid to Pakistani flood victims
      Okay, I'm at a loss over this suggestion.  How is this confronting extremism?  What does it have to do with religion at all?  What does it have to do with anything else on this list?

5) Examine your own prejudices - most of us have them.
     Yes, we do.  But prejudice against Americans, Christians (especially Catholics), men, white people, Jews, Israel, Conservatives, Tea Partiers, The West, ugly people, fat people, skinny people, rich people, capitalists, etc ... are all acceptable prejudices.  Because they deserve it and their very existence is offensive.  Especially individuals like Beck, Bush (both of them), Palin and Harper.  Liberals, Leftists, Muslims, people of colour, gays, etc. are all incapable of prejudice, and disagreeing with anything they say is being prejudiced against them. 

6) Familiarize yourself both with the violent interpretations of the religions you encounter and with the interpretations of the same religious texts that emphasize love, compassion, and tolerance for all.
      But make sure you only emphasize the positive aspects of any non-Christian, non-Jewish religion, while emphasizing violent parts of The Bible and the Torah.  Extra points if you can bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition, point out (erroneously, but that doesn't matter) that Hitler was a Catholic and Timothy McVeigh was a Christian.  More bonus points if you bring up residential schools and pedophile priests.  If anyone tries to point out the differences between the actions of a particular non-Christian, non-Jewish religious group's and their claims of peace and tolerance, shout that person down as a right-wing nutbar, Islamophobe, homophobe, racist or bigot.  Because they're evil and they deserve it.

7) Speak out for tolerance on blogs, facebook pages, in public forums, in your faith group and in letters to the editor.
     Unless those people are attacking Christians (especially Catholics), Jews, Israel, Americans, white people, men, fat people, heterosexuals, conservatives.  They're fair game and defending them is only demonstrating your own intolerance, ignorance, and agreement with their hateful stances.  Above all, never, ever suggest that liberals, Muslims, gays, people of colour, etc. might also be prejudiced or intolerant, because their exalted status renders them incapable of it.  If they say it, it's always justified.

8) Monitor news and public-affairs media, and insist that they include voices for peace and tolerance in their programming, and not give undue importance to advocates of exclusion and intolerance. (A starting place is to sign Color of Change’s petition calling on businesses to “Turn Off Fox.”
     Because only Fox News and other conservative is intolerant and calling for violence, never the left wing media.   They must be silenced.  Only the left and certain approved ethnic and religious groups (namely, not white, not Christian, not Jewish, never conservative, nor anyone even remotely right of centre) are allowed freedom of speech.  Anyone else is evil and must not be allowed to speak out, nor should they be allowed to have a medium to speak out. 

Looking back over what I've written it seems extreme, yet this is exactly what I've been encountering.  It always astounds me when I see people who are so otherwise dedicated to freedom of speech turn around and insist those they don't approve of not be allowed to speak.  People who talk about tolerance and acceptance, yet spout intolerance and hatred - sometimes in the same breath! - against anyone who disagrees.  They're all about equality, but only for certain groups.  They're all about love and peace, only to condone violence and hatred against specific groups.  They interpret any disagreement with their views as prejudice and hatred, blissfully unaware of their own bigotry and hateful words.

It boggles my mind to see that those who preach loudest for freedom are the first to deny freedom to any who disagree.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

First, we misrepresent what you say. Then, we tell you why you're wrong.

Not too long ago, some of my Liberal friends shared an article purporting to explain the myths and facts about the long gun registry. They are in support of the long gun registry, so this was right up their alley.

The problem, however, is that it's complete BS.

The biggest  issue is that the "myths" are largely not what gun registry opponents are actually saying.  The other is that the "facts" don't even necessarily negate the "myths."

This starts right with Myth #1.

The claim: gun registry opponents complain about the (insert large amount of choice) cost of the registry per year, but it only cost $4.1 million dollars to operate in 2009, therefore they are wrong.

First off, the "myth" is over simplified.  The objection is to the cost overruns, and to the fact that we're paying for something that doesn't accomplish it's goal of making us all safer and prevent another Montreal Massacre.  Second, the "fact" of the actual cost per year is questionable.

Originally, implementing the registry was supposed to only cast taxpayers $2 million.  After that, it was supposed to pay for itself through registration fees.  More specifically, in 1995, we were told it would cost $119 million to implement, with an expected $117 million collected in fees, thereby leaving $2 million for the taxpayers to cover.  An audit in 2002 showed that it would instead cost $1 BILLION, with an expected income of only $140 million from fees. That actual cost since the registry came into being has apparently exceeded $2 billion.

Which is why the long gun registry is referred to as the Billion Dollar Boondoggle.

As for the annual operating costs, I don't know where they get their number of $4.1 million, because the reported cost is at $44.6 million.  (For a breakdown of all the costs, visit here)

Now, I don't know about you, but whether it's $4.1 million or $44.6 million, that's a lot of money coming out of taxpayer pockets every year for something that isn't accomplishing what it was designed to do.

As for registration fees, that takes us to Myth/Fact #2.  The "myth" is that it cost too much to register, while the "fact" says that it's free.

Not quite  It costs $60 (non-restricted) or $80 (restricted), renewable every 5 years. Which is interesting when you consider the registry was supposed to pay for itself through fees.

On to Myth/Fact #3, with the "myth" saying that there's too much red tape to register, while the "fact" states it's actually easy, because you can register by mail or online "in minutes."

How the "fact" negates the "myth" escapes me.  When my BIL, an avid hunter with several different guns, including a musket loader he built himself, tried to register his guns online back when it first became a requirement, it was a complete failure.  He finally tried to mail in his registration, and that didn't work out, either.  I know he was eventually able to register them all, but I don't think he was able to do it by deadline.  It also cost him something like $150 in total.  He's not the only one who's had troubles, and that's just the ones who successfully registered.  I've heard of others who attempted to register, only to be told their registration was never received and being threatened with criminal charges for it (funny... the police still managed to know they had guns).  Still others registered their rifles, only to have them seized shortly after for one reason or another.  They got them back eventually, as they were seized without cause, but not without a whole lot of hoop jumping (you know... like red tape) and being treated like criminals.

Being able to do something by mail or online doesn't make the red tape any less, nor the process any less of a hassle.

"Myth" #4 is the claim that the gun registry is not secure, while their "fact"claims it has never been breached, while making an ad hom attack on an Conservative MP.  Now, I have no idea what sort of numbers they're talking about that the "mythsayers" are claiming about security breaches.  This is what I do know.  John Hicks, a computer consultant and webmaster, claims to have hacked into the system in only 13 minutes; though that claim is denied.  In fact, every single link I've tried to follow to verify that story is now dead.  Others claim to have hacked the system, but those links are coming up dead, too.  Curious, indeed!  There is also reason to believe that the registry was used by criminals to target gun collectors - I recall one news story where a collector came back from vacation and discovered his home had been robbed, with only his gun safe broken into - something that took significant time and effort, considering the type of safe he had - and his guns stolen.  Strangely, I can't find that story again.  You can also get registration information with a FOI request

No computer system - especially a government one - is fully secure.  My husband writes software for government use, and has done so for several different departments.  More specifically, he takes software they already have and makes it do the things they want as the department needs change and grow.  One thing they all have in common is that they're a mess. Some have been modified so often for so long, it'd actually be better off to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch - not something that will ever be done.  Anyone that claims they haven't been or can't be breached, is either lying or deluding themselves, plain and simple.

Myth #5.  Criminals use handguns, while only hunters and farmers use long guns.

Nope.  No one against the registry is saying that criminals ONLY use handguns and that ONLY law-abiding citizens use long guns.  This "myth" is a complete misrepresentation. Worse still is the curious twist in the "fact" disputing it.   For this one, let me quote what they actually say:

FACT: Criminals also use shotguns and rifles. Of the 16 police officer shooting deaths in Canada between 1998 and 2009, 14 were killed by a long gun. Long guns are as lethal as handguns and have been used in domestic violence and in suicides. Most firearm-related deaths are caused by rifles or shotguns with suicides the leading cause of death by firearms in Canada.

 Note the shift?

First, there's the blatantly obvious statement that criminals also use long guns.  Duh! No one claimed they didn't.  Hand guns are, however, the weapon of choice for criminals.  They're easier to hide, for starters.  Also, while long gun homicides have been steadily decreasing, hand gun homicides have been increasing.

Then they talk about police officer deaths.  While such deaths are distinguishable precisely because they're police deaths, note that there are only 16 of them in 11 years.  They say nothing about non-police deaths involving guns.  They don't address the actual use of guns by criminals when they're not actively engaging the police.  In other words, they don't actually refute the "myth," even misstated as it is.  Rather, they move on to domestic violence and suicides, implying that the long gun registry would somehow prevent these.

How about some real facts? Hanging is the most common method of suicide in Canada.  Pesticides are also a commonly used for suicide, as is asphyxiation, poisoning, blunt force trauma (ie: jumping off a building), exsanguination, drowning, self-immolation, electrocution and starvation.  Oh, and lets not forget suicide by cop.  Suicide by firearm certainly happens.  I've known a couple of people who used guns to kill themselves.  You know what?  If they hadn't had access to guns, they would have killed themselves anyways.

As for domestic violence, weapons are not typically used.  When weapons are used, they are most likely to be knives (or something else that cuts).  Also explosives, fire and  poison.  According to this, firearms weren't used at all in the reporting period. (weapons use begins on page 13)  Use of firearms in domestic violence remains extremely rare.

Except, of course, the "myth" isn't about suicide or domestic violence.  In fact, those have nothing to do with the "myth" at all.  It's a strawman argument.  It is not the registry's purpose to prevent suicides or domestic violence.

The next three "myths" are variations of the same topic; police.  There's #6, claiming that police don't support the registry, #7 that they don't use the registry, and  #8, that the CPIC database automatically queries the registry.

Myth #6 is another misrepresentation: some police support it, some don't.  While the chiefs recently issued a statement in support of it, a survey found that the majority of police officers are actually against it.  As for the usage, visit here to see not only the number of queries, but how they were made (note the totals of firearms licenses, certificate and serial numbers vs. individual names).  With "fact" number 8, they don't even bother to address the "myth" (that the system automatically queries the registry).  They just throw out numbers about how often the database is searched and claim it's proof that police are using it.

Let's try reality.  The RCMP began tracking these numbers in 2003.  Since then, the computer systems - and the automation - changed, leading to increases of queries.  The result?  As of June, 2010, 96.3% of all queries were automatically generated (a simple license plate query will search the gun registry), while only 3.7% were the result of license, certificates and serial number searches all together.

It should also be noted that these searches aren't just from the police, but also from sales.  Every time someone buys a gun, that sale generates 3 hits; one each for the buyer, the seller and the firearm itself.

Myth #9, at least, seems accurate; it's the claim that the registry doesn't save lives.  Their "fact" first goes off on apples and oranges comparisons to seatbelt laws and helmet laws.  Last I heard, we didn't have to register our seatbelts or our helmets.  Nor do we register our knives, which would be a more accurate comparison, since knives are actually used to kill people more often then guns.  They then talk about how the numbers of firearm murders and suicides (again with the suicides...) have gone down, implying they've gone down because of the registry, though I'll give them a bit of a bonus for giving education and storage regulations some credit.  What they neglected to mention, however, is that gun related homicides are 1) very low in Canada to start with and 2) have been decreasing since the 1970's.  They also neglect to mention that homicides using firearms have decreased in other countries for the last two decades, including countries that don't have firearm registries.  Correlation does not equal causation.

Finally, we have Myth #10 - the claim that the registry does nothing to prevent violence against women.

They don't even try to counter this one with their "fact."  They just say "Women's safety experts and frontline women's shelters across the country agree. The registry helps reduce violence against women. Can they all be wrong?"

It's a completely rhetorical question.  Of course they can all be wrong.  The fact that they're "women's safety experts" (whatever that is) or "frontline women's shelters" (can shelters have an opinion?) suggests me that they have a vested interest in keeping the registry, no matter what.  I would certainly question impartiality; it's become a very emotional issue.

The long gun registry came into being directly as a result of the Montreal Massacre.  Many of the people involved, as well as many registry supporters, view it not so much as a safety issue, but as a women's issue.  There is some strange belief that, had there been a gun registry 20 + years ago, 14 women would not have been killed that day.  How, I have no idea.  If some wacko wants to use a gun to kill people, they're not going to think "oh, gee... I registered this gun.  I'd better not kill anyone."   If someone is crazy enough to plan out something as atrocious as a massacre, no registry is going to stop them.  The fact that there have been murders done using registered weapons shows the registry can't stop anyone from using a registered weapon to kill someone.  At best, it has helped police to identify a dead shooter.  It hasn't made it any harder for criminals to get guns, nor does it stop criminals from using them. 

The purpose of the long gun registry was to ensure something like the Montreal Massacre would never happen again; to somehow make us safer from criminals.  It does nothing of the sort.  A registry can't do anything like that.  All it can do is keep track of legal gun owners and their legally owned guns.

Surely there are more efficient ways to use the millions of dollar spent on the registry every year?

(note:  it is now past 2:30 am as I finish this, and my editor has long since gone to bed.   That and I've got a cat sleeping across my arms, making it rather hard to type. My apologies for any typos, spelling mistakes or confusing turns of phrase.)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Buying stuff

You know what?

I hate shopping.

I really, really, hate shopping.

I know that, being female and all, I'm supposed to love shopping.  Apparently, the sight of a sale somewhere and spending money is supposed to give me near orgasmic pleasure.  I'm supposed to have closets full of clothes, a different pair of shoes to match each outfit, and be totally gaga over jewelry.  According to our modern culture a day of going from store to store, blowing wads of cash, is even supposed to be therapeutic.

Nope.  Not me.

First off, I hate spending money wastefully.  There are very few things I'm willing to throw a few extra ducats at for the sake of quality.  Even less because I just really, really like it.  I might splurge on a higher quality ball of yarn perhaps, but I'm perfectly willing to score some cheap yarn at the Salvation Army, Goodwill or the Reuse Centre.

When it comes to shopping, though, the more I actually need to get something, the less likely I am to actually get it.  Especially if it's something for myself.  Still, even the most basic of shopping trips is a whole lot of stress and frustration I'd rather not take part in.

Take grocery shopping.  I don't shop with a list, exactly.  It's more like "I need meat, fruit, veggies... let's see what's on sale and what looks good."  Whatever I end up getting, that's what I make our meals with.

Let's start with meats and the like.  Beef is the one meat all four of us like - except for ground beef, which thoroughly disgusts one of us.  So that limits making things meatloaf, burgers, lasagna, spaghetti and meat sauce, etc.  Three of us like pork, but one finds it disgusting.  Two of us like dark chicken meat, one prefers white, while the other prefers to avoid it at all.  One of us won't eat anything with bones, even if I debone it first, because there always manages to be a piece of something that gets missed.  We have one person that likes seafood, the others don't care for it, unless it's wrapped in bacon, deep fried or lobster in a restaurant.  Three of us likes pork, while one finds it stomach churning.  Two of us likes to try new foods, though one is significantly braver than the other.  One would rather not eat than try something new, while the fourth is really, really uncomfortable trying new foods.

On it goes.

What about fruits and veggies?  We like fruit.  Nectarines, apples, plums, grapefruit, oranges, bananas, pomegranates, pears... yum!  The problems?  Discovering that the lovely fresh fruit we just bought is disgusting.  Whether it's biting into a luscious nectarine only to discover green mold growing in the pit (that was a recent one), peeling an orange only to find it's got weird, hard patches and no taste, biting into what was supposed to be a juicy, tart apple and finding it mealy and gross.  It's got to the point that I'm loathe to buy fresh fruit, no matter how good it looks, because I've too often had to throw them out.  As for veggies?  Touch and go, there.  Sometimes they are fine, but sometimes we'll pick up some fresh looking broccoli, only to have it turn yellow within a day or two.  Or a bag of potatoes goes moldy in no time.  I've lost track of the number of times I've tried to find a good bag of carrots, only to find bag after bag with slime on the bottom.  Forget about lettuces!  They don't last at all, though at least with lettuce, we can plant some on our balcony.

Oh, and just to make food shopping even more fun, I'm the only one in the family that isn't lactose intolerant.  Which sucks in a family that loves cheese.  Well, 3 of us do.  We cut soy quite some time ago, and now we find that one of us can't do wheat.  Only one of us really enjoys rice, while the rest have been riced-out considerably.  One of us likes barley and lentils, while another claims to like them but when they're served, never seems to eat them.  Another doesn't care for them, while the fourth finds them revolting.

On it goes.

As you can imagine, it makes grocery shopping a challenge.

Then there's other shopping.  Like clothes.

Ah, joy.  Not.

I used to have a hard time finding clothes because I had such huge breasts.  Now that I've had them lopped off, I've discovered that apparently, fat women aren't supposed to be small breasted.  We're also not supposed to be apple shaped, only hourglasses.  Oh, and our height is supposed to increase exponentially with our weight.  We're also supposed to be narrow at the shoulders.  Being short, big bellied and with the shoulders of a linebacker, it's quite nearly impossible to find clothes that fit, never mind ones that look good, too.

I'm not the only one with this problem.  While we all have different body shapes, all 4 of us have broad shoulders and wide feet.  No chance of accumulating a collection of shoes in this household; we're lucky if we can get a single pair that fits, and it's not unusual for us to keep wearing our shoes long after they've started falling apart, simply because it's so hard to find replacements that fit.

Which reminds me.  I'm going to have to throw out my hiking boots.  I've been wearing sandals all summer, but when it cooled down enough that I thought to dig them out, I discovered they're split wide open across the top.  The joys of having to buy men's shoes for a woman's foot.  Because they're designed for a foot that bends in a different place, they tend to split rather quickly.

What about non-personal items?  Like household needs?

I'm not much better there!  When we moved out here, some 6 years ago now, I left behind most of my baking supplies.  Most of them needed replacing anyhow, so I figured this would be a good time to do that.

I still haven't done it.

I've got some loaf pans, a couple of cookie sheets and a big roaster.  I've got an oven-safe frying pan with a missing handle I use for a small roaster.  I need some in-between sized pots, but every time I look at them, I walk away because I can't justify spending the money.  The only reason we've now got muffin tins and a glass pie plate is because of a friend's moving sale.  I need a new frying pan.  Actually, I need a couple in different sizes.  I just don't buy them.  There are a few things I was able to get, only because I had accumulated enough loyalty points to get them for free.  There are far more I really need to get, but the money is needed elsewhere.

Even if money weren't something I needed to worry about, I'd still hate shopping.  I dislike the entire experience.  The crowds.  The noise.  Wandering through shops, trying to hunt down staff when I need them, or peeling off the aggressive salespeople when I don't.  Searching for the things I need, and never being able to find them for one silly reason or another.  Of course, there's the shear pain of it, as my feet and knees click, clack and pop in and out of place, which happens much more frequently when the seasons are changing, as they are now. 

All in all, it's just a really horrid experience, and I truly don't get people who find shopping fun.  Me?  I just don't enjoy buying stuff.